Spokane Tribe joins small group with off-reservation casino ruling

An artist's rendering of the Spokane Tribe's off-reservation casino in Airway Heights, Washington. Photo from Spokane Tribe Economic Project

Off-reservation casino proposals generate a lot of controversy but they are still exceedingly rare in Indian Country.

Under the two-part determination provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, an off-reservation casino must first be approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. But before the tribe can go forward, the state governor must concur with the BIA's decision.

The lengthy and complex process has resulted in just four tribes successfully operating off-reservation casinos since 1988, the year IGRA became law. The first three came relatively early -- the Forest County Potawatomi Community in Wisconsin in 1990, the Kalispel Tribe in Washington in 1998 and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in Michigan in 2000.

It took more than a decade for two tribes in California -- Enterprise Rancheria and the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians -- to join the group. They completed both steps of the process in 2012 but they are still working on their casino projects.

The Enterprise Rancheria expects to open the Fire Mountain Casino in 2017. The North Fork Rancheria is making steady progress toward its goal.

Another year passed before the Kaw Nation completed both steps in 2013. The tribe is now operating an off-reservation casino in Braman, Oklahoma, making it the fourth two-part determination with a facility that's up and running.

With the Obama era drawing to a close, the Spokane Tribe is the latest to join the small class. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced his concurrence with the BIA's decision on Wednesday, clearing the path for an off-reservation casino in Airway Heights.

The project has been a decade in the making, again indicating how slowly the process moves. The BIA, meanwhile, has approved a handful of other off-reservation casinos but the tribes in those situations did not secure the governor's concurrence.

One notable instance occurred in Michigan, where the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community failed to secure approval to move the casino that was approved back in 2000 to a location that's actually closer to its reservation.

Another prominent example was in neighboring Wisconsin. The Menominee Nation failed to win the governor's concurrence for a casino that would compete with the Forest County Potawatomi Community's off-reservation facility.

And there is one glaring situation in which the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe won approval from the BIA and the state governor for an off-reservation casino. But when it came time to place the land in trust, the Bush administration rejected the application under an unusual policy that has been repudiated by the Obama administration.

Despite the small number of approvals, members of Congress from both parties have repeatedly tried to change or even eliminate the two-part determination process entirely. The efforts have seen significant opposition in Indian Country.

But the tide has been shifting as more tribes with existing casinos voice opposition to new developments, particularly in California. In those situations, the tribes won approval of their casino under different provisions of IGRA that weren't as cumbersome as the two-part determination process.

Get the Story:
Inslee approves Spokane Tribe’s West Plains casino project (The Spokane Spokesman-Review 6/9)
City of Airway Heights issues statement on STEP decision (My Fox Spokane 6/8)
Greater Spokane Incorporated ‘deeply disappointed’ by Inslee decision (My Fox Spokane 6/8)
Gov. Inslee approves Spokane Tribe casino (KREM 6/8)
Inslee gives final approval to Spokane Tribe's casino (The Pacific Northwest Inlander 6/8)

Tribal Leader Opinions on H.R.5079, the California Compact Protection Act:
Maryann McGovran: Don't be fooled by efforts of 'wealthy' tribes (5/13)
Claudia Gonzales: Off-reservation gaming fuels attacks on tribes (5/13)

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